CHICAGO - The Chicago Bears are the No. 2 seed playing the NFC title game against Green Bay at home with some key team leaders left over from their last Super Bowl team.
Made men under interrogation give up more than the Bears’ No. 2 run defense, and the last team to slow down Green Bay was Chicago in the season finale.
Offensively, the Bears exploded for 40, 38 and 35 points in three of their past four games after a season of alterations by offensive coordinator Mike Martz to tailor his scheme to fit the talent.
Opponents wring their hands over whether to kick or punt to perhaps the most dangerous returner in NFL history.
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Yet, “We’re underdogs,” Bears cornerback Danieal Manning said with a smile.
Not just underdogs. Growing underdogs, if you believe the oddsmakers, who made Green Bay a three-point favorite as soon as today’s NFC title match was set. Perhaps swayed by the way Green Bay and quarterback Aaron Rodgers ousted Philadelphia and smoked No. 1 seed Atlanta on the road, steady money on the Packers has moved the line to 31/2 points.
“It takes all the pressure off of us,” said Devin Hester, the aforementioned return ace. “We’re not the highly touted team. It works in our favor. We like being the underdogs. In the end, we try to have the last laugh.”
When it comes to chilly embraces, only the wind shooting off Lake Michigan hugging Chicago pedestrians matches the media and fans shoulder-hugging the Bears.
When Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher wants to make a case for Chicago coach Lovie Smith as NFL Coach of the Year, he takes a slap at those media “experts” who predicted that the Bears would finish 5-11 or 6-10.
“We never doubted ourselves,” Manning said. “We knew we had too many good players, too many good coaches.”
Urlacher, Hester, Manning and kicker Robbie Gould are among the players who remain from the Chicago team that lost to Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLI – which had been the Bears’ last playoff game until last week.
Tight end Greg Olsen, drafted out of Miami the April after that Super Bowl, said that the three years out of the playoffs forged everyone’s strength for dealing with a 4-3 start to this season and rebounding from a 36-7 pasting by New England in Week 14 to whip Minnesota and the Jets the next two weeks.
Gould thinks that his teammates in their first playoff appearances understand the rarity of their opportunity through teammates who have had to fight for their second shot at a Super Bowl.
“There’s a lot of guys they can follow to understand, ‘Hey, this is a do-or-die situation,’ ” Gould said. “You might only get this chance once. Some guys don’t ever get it.”